In a recent report, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) found that from 2006 to 2014, total grant dollars awarded to Native American organizations and causes by large foundations in the U.S. declined significantly, even though the raw number of individual grants increased. It found that annual giving by large foundations to Native causes declined by a hefty 29%, a $35 million drop. This means that since 2006, on average, large foundations have given $4.3 million less every year to Native American organizations and causes.
Overall, the share of total foundation dollars awarded to Native organizations and causes during the period averaged only six-tenths of one percent (0.6%) of foundation giving.
First Nations also found that in most years, the majority of grant dollars supposedly aimed at supporting Native communities and causes are not awarded to Native-controlled nonprofit organizations. Looking at giving from 2007 to 2014, non-Native-controlled organizations received roughly 53% of all grant dollars awarded, whereas Native-controlled organizations (those solely focused on serving Native American populations and also whose board of directors is majority Native American) received about 48%.
The report, Growing Inequity: Large Foundation Giving to Native American Organizations and Causes – 2006-2014, was intended to examine the state of large foundation giving to Native organizations. The project was generously supported by the Fund for Shared Insight.
“Disheartening and Maddening”
“It’s disheartening and a little maddening,” said Michael Roberts, President & CEO of First Nations, “that during the Great Recession, grantmaking to Indian causes by large philanthropy was cut in half – that as Indians, we bore the burden of philanthropy’s decreased giving. And although the markets have returned and foundation portfolios have recovered, grantmaking to Indian causes has not returned to previous levels and we continue to lose ground.
“But that isn’t even the worst of it – the fact that more than half of the funding given to Indian causes each year goes to non-Indian-controlled institutions, in the name of Indians, is downright infuriating,” Roberts added.
Data used to inform the report was provided by the Foundation Center. The Foundation Center’s grants database tracks foundation giving from the 1,000 largest U.S. foundations, coded by issue, population and geographic focus. It includes grant-level information reported by foundations, foundation websites and other public reporting, and from the IRS returns filed annually by all U.S. foundations. The information includes data on all grants of $10,000 or more awarded by independent, corporate, grantmaking operating foundations, and community foundations. The Foundation Center notes that giving by this subset of foundations ensures a good sample within the universe of overall grants made by the foundation community.
On average, the report found, foundations gave more to Native American organizations and causes prior to the Great Recession (in total dollars) when compared to the years after, but that foundations gave 6% more in individual grants (albeit at a lower total dollar amount). In 2012, the overall share of foundation dollars awarded to Native organizations decreased to four-tenths of one percent nationally (0.4%). However, over the full period, the percentage was somewhat more consistent, averaging six-tenths of one percent (0.6%).
“We were pretty crestfallen before when we thought that less than one-half of one percent of foundation giving went to Indian Country (based on earlier studies), but this new data shows that the real number is only 23/100ths of one percent, which is how much actually flows to Native-controlled organizations,” Roberts said.
Funding is Volatile, Too
The research also found that annual foundation giving to Native organizations and causes is extremely volatile, experiencing annual spikes and declines. This volatility has real consequences and can cause instability for community organizations that cannot accurately predict revenue and, thus, cannot reliably invest in organizational development and programming.
Finally, in trying to understand where the largest gaps in funding were coming from, the report found that new funders have emerged to support Native American organizations and causes, but these new funding entities cannot fully fill the gaps left by significant declines in support by America’s largest foundations.
“The decline of foundation investments in Native communities and causes is extremely troubling. What this report makes clear is that is that it is more important than ever for foundations to evaluate their commitment to equity and inclusion of Native people within their philanthropic giving portfolios,” Roberts said.
The full report and an executive summary are available for free from the First Nations Knowledge Center at https://firstnations.org/knowledge-center/strengthening-nonprofits. (Please note that if you don’t already have one, you will need to create a free online account in order to download the reports.)